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Stories - Star Search
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Confessions of a Star Search Semi-Finalist

By: Bob Paxman


"My name is Jimbeau Hinson and, yes, I was a semi-finalist on the television show Star Search.

Who am I and how did I get to this place in life?

Well, I've been singing professionally (for money) since I was ten years old. Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to have hit songs recorded by such artists as The Oak Ridge Boys, Brenda Lee, Steve Earl, Reba McEntire, Kathy Mattea (Train of Memories) and many others.

I quit singing altogether until last year when a friend asked me to host a writers' night. The crowds have steadily grown as I have worked different clubs around the Nashville area (including a performance at the Camel, Friday night Feb. 19th)."

Most of the above written intro by Jimbeau Hinson could also be told by any one of hundreds of artists living and working (some more than others) in Nashville. Nothing much unusual or out of the ordinary, on the surface. But from Spring of 1987 until January of this year, life was not exactly ordinary for this Mississippi native and full time Music City resident. For he went through the wringers and rigors of "the world's greatest talent competition," better known as the syndicated television show Star Search.

He can laugh about it now (in preface, it must be noted that Hinson spends a considerable portion of time in laughter; and he has a wonderful, infectious laugh that climaxes in robust, gail forced crescendos), but Jimbeau Hinson would later remark that Star Search was "the most nerve racking experience I have ever had in my life." Yet, it was worth every bit of the sweat - hey, you get to compete for $100,000, meet Ed McMahon (the ubiquitos Star Search host) and hang out with comedians and models. How do you get there from here?

For Jimbeau Hinson, it all started when he and his wife Brenda Fielder recorded portions of one of his live shows. Dick Heard, who produces the Nashville segments for Entertainment Tonight and Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous (in a cruel twist, Lifestyles decibal splitting host Robin Leach would play a part in this Star Search saga), suggested that Hinson send a slice of that film to Star Search.

Send the tape he did and respond they did, calling him for a Nashville audition. Still a might incredulous, Hinson explained to the Star Search representatives that they might opt for checking out OpryLand instead. "They've got acres of guys that would fit much closer to what you're searching for," he reasoned. They said "But we're trying to change our image. We are looking for more mature artists who might actually have a chance to get a record deal and be stars."

Hinson passed the audition, held in front of talent coordinator Mike Grizzi, thus sealing his fate. It was too late to turn back now, as the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose once waxed. So, just to see what sort of Faustian arrangement he had dealt for himself, he decided to seriously view the program one night, a week before leaving Nashville (time frame: Sept.).

"I was totally unaware how the show went down - I had only seen it a couple of times. I saw these two guys walk out there, sing their two minutes and then (the unequivacle time limit for all contestants: dancers get a minute and a half)...then they stood beside each other and these little numbers piled up under their faces! I turned to Brenda and asked how many people watched the show. I went white. `You mean if you lose, you humiliate yourself in front of 20 million people - not counting reruns?'

Which One Will It Be?

Upon arriving in Los Angeles and being schlepped to the Aquarius Theater, Hinson naturally expected to be regaled with glamour. What he found was a Hollywood version of a prison ward - closets stacked three floors high serving as "dressing rooms", singers practicing vocal aerobics, dancers throwing one another around in the halls. Only the sarcastic running commentary of the comics preserved one's sanity ("They kept shouting at us, `Will you please be quiet?' I haven't been told to shut up since grade school.")

Then came the obligitory walk through. "I had to have my wardrobe approved (laughter). They also wanted to see my movements, so they could get the right camera angles," he recalls.

Next, "Show Time", and Hinson's first opponent: a strapping, 6' Texas heartbreaker named Billie Dean {"I thought, if this is a beauty contest I've had it."), who quite literally towered over the Mississippi munchkin. Following Dean's soaring ballad, Hinson countered with his soulful Everybody Wins, at least half of which would loom prophetic.

The dreaded moment arrived and more numbers piled up under Hinson's face than under Dean's; Jimbeau shook Ed's hand and spoke a few lines from his press releases. He had won, but he was realizing something that would douse the heat of the moment - "It was fixing to start all over again, like Jason Lives. The monster would be getting up in a few short hours to get those numbers ready to flash under my face again."

The numbers would be kind on round two, however, as he worked the audience ("I was a favorite of the soul sisters cheering section out front.") during his rendition of Hold Onto Her. I snuck in a high note or two just for insurance," he remembers with a smile. He thought that challenger Erroll Starr had performed admirably and "worked the camera like a pro." When the two had finished their numbers, Ed, as always, shifted into suspense mode - "Which One Will It Be?" - and the tally board bearing all those numbers showed Hinson the second round winner.

"I was numb for a few seconds. I did speak to myself - `Move, Jimbeau, walk towards Ed.' He asked me if I remebered the first song I ever did and where I was at the time. I said `It was Davy Crockett and I was on a rocking horse.'"

Gonged With The Wind

No sooner had he arrived at the Aquarius for round three than he recognized his new opponent, former Opryland Entertainer John Blalock, who had ironically auditioned for the slot with Hinson's Everybody Wins. Blalock would not reprise that number for this night, though Hinson would attack with an original, Chuck Berry style rocker, Blonde Ambition, at the behest of Star Search.

The game was up with Blalock's opening licks. Hinson recounts his thoughts as he watched from the audience. "When I heard John singing, I knew it was over. I even tried rewriting the melody line to Blonde Ambition, but decided to sing it like it is. Years from now, I did not want Star Search to come back and haunt me with a Johnnie Vegas performance. I walked out there and gave it all I could under the circumstances. This time the numbers fell the wrong way." Among the judges determining the evenings fates were none other than Robin Leach and a blonde ex-model who bore the title, "Face of 1983." ("I'm sure she appreciated Blonde Ambition.")

Not to imply that Hinson took the loss lying down (that would come later). Several rounds of Tequila at the post-taping party had instilled (or distilled) in him the bravado of a toreador, used most effectively against Star Searches Mike Grizzi. With a loose toungue, oozing southern venacular at it's most colorful, Hinson proceeded to question Grizzi on the wisdom of suggesting Blonde Ambition.

It should be noted that Hinson, was not totally out of the running for the $100,000. Under the slightly complex Star Search rules (which rival most game shows for verbosity), the two acts in each category with the highest number of wins in each round return to compete in the National Semifinals. Up to this point, he was the champion of round two; should he return for this bit of action and win, he would then compete against another winning vocalist in the finals.

Hinson returned to Nashville before he was to embark back to L.A. for the semifinals. During his homestay, he struggled with nightmares (dreaming of a perfect score) and fits of what he would later term as "Post Star Search Depression."

On December 6, he and Brenda left for the next Star Search bout; they found Grizzi only too pleased to offer wardrobe tips ("I must not have made him too mad."). Grizzi advised him to "dress up younger. So I went out and spent a fortune on a new Star Search outfit, something with beads and bangles. I walked out there looking like a million dollars at a fraction of the cost." His selection: Everybody Wins.

But the clotheshorse was not to win the race. Victor Cook - "a black male Barbara Streisand; he didn't just sing, he nailed notes to the wall" - bested him in the semifinals, and Cook will compete for the grand prize on WGN (ViaCom Channel 20), the night of February 21st.

Jimbeau was Star Search history.

So, was it worth all the torment and frustration? "Yes, it was, although I'm glad I don't have to do it again. I had no idea it would be so nerve racking - I still have nightmares."

He vows he will never enter another talent competition again ("I mean, the music business is competetive enogh."), though not because he has soured on performing. "Heck, the performing part is easy...it's those numbers up against your face."


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